The #1 Brain Exercise for Memory Improvement, According to Neurologists “Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links.”
You likely already know to brush teeth to prevent dental cavities, work out to s trengthen muscles and wear sunscreen to protect skin, you may not realize there are things you can do to keep your brain sharp .
For starters, a 2019 study of nearly 200,000 adults found that those who had a healthier lifestyle were less likely to develop dementia over the course of eight years, even if they were genetically at risk for dementia — and a 2020 study came to a similar conclusion. Beyond general healthy habits, though, specific activities have been shown to boost brainpower and prevent cognitive decline: brain exercises. Do brain exercises work?
Probably — but it’s complicated. “Memory is not one thing, but it’s a combination of different things so when we talk about exercises or training for memory, I think it depends on what type of memory we’re referring to,” says Zaldy S. Tan, M.D., M.P.H. , the director of the Cedars-Sinai Health System Memory and Aging Program. Consider a trip to the grocery store: Remembering what you intended to buy without having a list to look at requires an ability to recall things. Remembering the layout of the store and where to find things requires more of a visual/spatial memory. Running into a peer from elementary school, remembering how you know them and holding a conversation requires a quick processing speed on top of recall.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to study the effects that certain activities have on our brain. It’s not as simple as say, watching someone practice bicep curls every day and seeing their muscle girth increase over time. “The things that we’re engaged in on a day-to-day basis that are not specific to deliberately improving our memory — for example, reading a book, attending classes at a junior college because we’re interested, listening to NPR or something else that will expand your view of the world or watching documentaries — those are all great, but they haven’t been studied for us to conclusively say that if you do all of these things, you’re less likely to develop memory problems,” says Dr. Tan. “Speed of information processing can be enhanced by cognitive training by computer-based tests, for example, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.”
That said, engaging in certain exercises (even if they’re specific to one type of memory skill) can’t hurt and may even help you in the long run. “Increasing these synaptic connections — increasing these areas of connections in the brain — that might help build reserve,” says , the director of Division of Cognitive Neurology. “If, in the future, you have unfortunate issues that affect the brain, such as strokes or dementia conditions, you’d have a little bit more reserved.”
It seems one of the best things you can do for better cognition is physical exercise. It increases blood flow to the brain; reduces the risk of stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes (three risk factors for developing memory problems); and lowers inflammation oxidation (which has also been implicated in dementia), according to Dr. Tan. In fact, a of nearly 1,300 women age 65 and older found that for every 31 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a participant did every day, she had a 21% lower risk of developing dementia. Meanwhile, a concluded that people who regularly , running, swimming, bicycling, dancing, yoga, sports and exercise machines had a 17% lower risk of developing dementia than those who didn’t. New to exercise and not sure where to start? Check out our list of the to try at home or in a gym.
If you want to take the benefits of exercise to a whole new level, consider a sport that requires you to play with other people. On top of the physical exercise, shows that sports require you to make quick decisions and solve problems (Where is my teammate? Should I run faster? Which strategic play might work best right now?) and give you the opportunity to socialize with others, Dr. Scharre points out. “The whole brain is working really well, and it’s a great whole-brain activity,” he says.
The next time you open the calculator app on your phone, suggests you might want to pause for a second and decide if the math problem at hand is something you can solve without technology. In fact, found that senior citizens who given basic math and reading problems to work on every day for six months experienced boosts in processing speed and executive function.
Knowing two languages allows you to connect with others you may not have communicated with before, makes travel easier and supports a healthy brain. A 2020 found that people who are bilingual develop dementia at a later age than people who only speak one language. It may sound like a big commitment, but we found the to get you started — and some are totally free.
Doing a variety of puzzles is the key here since different ones engage different parts of your brain, but , and may be particularly helpful. “Sudoku is great for logic — that’s the frontal part of the brain. Crosswords increase your abilities to store vocabulary and think of words on your verbal side,” says Dr. Scharre. “ may be more of a visual/spatial thing.”
Performing music requires you to mix the physicality of touch with remembering and hearing — in a short amount of time. even found that people over age 60 who took piano lessons scored higher on tests of episodic memory and attention six months later than people who didn’t. Episodic memories are things we remember that happened in the past (whether it be 30 years ago or 30 days ago).
In , people with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease who did 30 minutes of guided meditations every day […]